Rebecca Fischer emerges in silhouette behind a lighted scrim, plucking the strings of her violin. Anthony Hawley kneels on the floor about 10 feet away, watching Fischer and waiting to turn on an overhead projector and computer.
Minutes later, Fischer has come into the gallery space and is playing while quietly singing “Dear color, dear color” as Hawley places a transparency with type on the projector, then pours colored liquid on a plate, creating a moving image on the wall.
The light from two projectors -- the overhead and one showing video from the computer -- bounces off the walls, illuminating the framed photographs and paintings, bringing the space fully to life.
The Afield -- duo Hawley and Fischer -- is at work Tuesday, casting its “Book of Spells.”
Taking its name from “far afield,” The Afield is a collaboration between husband and wife Hawley and Fischer, who began working together in 2011. But Tuesday’s show was the first time they shared a stage at the same time.
“Usually, it’s violin and video and I’m a little more behind the scenes,” said Hawley, a visual artist and writer. “When Becca has been in my projects, I’m more like a director. ... We wanted to figure how we both could be ‘onstage’ and really do something a little more truly collaborative.”
That opportunity came when Charley Friedman and Nancy Friedemann, who turn their west Lincoln studios into Fiendish Plots a few times a year, offered The Afield the opportunity to do an installation, by Hawley, and a series of three performances that began Tuesday and will conclude when the exhibition closes Nov. 3. The remaining two performances are 7 p.m. Oct. 17 and Nov. 3.
Taking inspiration from the French word “grimoire,” that means a book of magic and incantations, Hawley and Fischer set about planning the installation and performances that have become “Book of Spells.”
“We spent a lot of time thinking about how could it all be meaningful,” Hawley said. “We could have a show, have a performance. But it’s more interesting to have it all connected. It’s one organic thing. I think that’s cool.”
That “organic thing” literally took on a life of its own during the 45-minute performance of “Spells for Color and Water” as Fischer, working from her own compositions, pieces written for her and a pair of medieval works, improvised, responding to the colors and shapes being projected.
That’s far different from how she usually performs as a member of the Chiara String Quartet and even in her other collaborations with Hawley.
“I come from a tradition, in classical music, of preparation and execution at the very highest level,” Fischer said. “It’s all about process, then the five minutes to two hours of execution. To do something like this is much more conceptual in nature, trying things out. … It’s something I want to be doing more of.”
As a married couple, Hawley and Fischer said they constantly work together, often critiquing each other’s work and creating an understanding that allows the collaborations to happen easily.
“You don’t have to talk about certain things,” Hawley said. “You definitely have to talk about other things.”
Among the 25 spectators sitting on the gallery floor Tuesday were Oriana and Ilaria, the couple’s daughters.
“It’s just part of our family, all our crazy projects,” Fischer said. “We don’t separate art from life. Our girls are very tough and fine critics of our artistic output, our creative output. They will tell us when things work and when they don’t. Thankfully, they both had thumbs up Tuesday.”
So did the rest of the audience, who watched Fischer play, bringing to mind American performance artist Laurie Anderson, joined her in chanting some of the words and saw the hippie-ballroom-style projections enliven the space, with some of the videos reflecting, repeating and expanding upon the images in the photographs and paintings that make up Hawley’s installation.
Those framed manipulated photographs and parts of the painting come from Hawley’s travels over the last couple of years -- ancient ruins in Malta; thermal pools in Iceland rendered in neon colors; Pacific Rim forests near Vancouver, British Columbia; hands manipulating rocks on an island off the coast and Maine; and images captured in Zimbabwe, where the Afield took part in the Harare International Festival of the Arts, a six-day multidisciplinary arts festival.
“On the opening day of HIFA, the Afield offered a workshop titled 'Between Sight and Sound: Envisioning Artistic Collaborations,'” Fischer writes in an article to be published in the November issue of Strings Magazine. “We introduced the key tenets of our working philosophy -- Dream-Forward, Anywhere/Anyhow, and Something Out of Anything -- to the participants, and they got to work using color and their imaginations to develop plans for their own multimedia presentations.
“We were inspired by the creativity of the participants and their sophisticated artistic and cultural sensitivity. Thanks to our experience at HIFA, the Afield is launching the Afield School, a mobile, transportable series of workshops in a new educational platform.”
That “school," Fischer said, won’t be a traditional school -- the Afield has no desire to become educational administrators. Rather it will be a space run out of a home base, perhaps associated with a university, where classes and workshops, like those held in Zimbabwe, will be offered to students, with pop-up versions taking place across the country.
That is just one of the projects Fischer and Hawley are involved in this fall.
Tuesday’s Fiendish Plots show began with what Hawley called “a season of projects” for the Afield, which is slated to perform at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, Boston University and Omaha’s Kaneko in the next few months.
It’s next out-of-Lincoln appearance will be at Harvester Arts in Wichita, Kansas, along with an installation of his “Drawings for Donald,” a series of daily drawings Hawley began on Jan. 21, the day Donald Trump became president. Those drawings are each inscribed with phrases like “dear donald all the old dictators wish you a better hair day.”
Wednesday morning, Hawley was at Fiendish Plots, taking out some of the “Drawings for Donald” and contemplating where they will be placed in the installation, which will change throughout the month.
The drawings also will figure in “Spells for Dictators and Borders,” the second of three performances the Afield will present at Fiendish Plots. The couple will be joined Tuesday by Fischer’s sister Abigail, a mezzo-soprano who is coming to Lincoln from New York to sing at the performance.
“We both work with language on a regular basis,” Fischer said, giving a hint to the content of Tuesday’s performance. “We both write in different contexts. We know the power of the word. What we’re trying to do with the next show is a performance that highlights the multiple meanings of a different work and words and learn more of the healing power of language.
“Language now is putting walls between people, that’s why it is ‘Spells for Dictators and Borders.' We want to break down some of those borders.”
The final Fiendish Plots performance, “Spam Spells,” with special guest Nat Castañeda, a New York artist, is set for Nov. 3. But it won’t be the last of the couple’s both-on-stage collaborations.
“I think we’ll do more of this kind of work,” Hawley said. “Once you do it, why would you go back?”